Friday, October 12, 2007

Korea: Day Seven: The Demilitarized Zone

Got up and put our nice clothes on, with me borrowing a shirt from Steve, as both the collared shirts I'd brought were hopelessly wrinkled. This would be the only day we'd have a dress code.

We went downstairs and walked outside for US Navy Commander (retired) Tom _____, and his PT Cruiser. Tom is a friend of Adam's and used to be the head dude up at the Joint Security Area. He's also particularly knowledgeable about Korean military history. The whole ride up to the JSA was punctuated with observations, anecdotes, and cigar smoke. . . all in a come-and-go Irish accent. Quite the character!

We arrived at the bridge to the JSA, and were met by Lt. Commander Dignan, the guy who currently has Cmdr Tom's old job. He brought a UNC (United Nations Command) bus with him for us. We followed the bus past the checkpoint
Camp Bonifas
and into the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone), parking behind the office building, maybe 100 m or less from North Korea. We toured the office, and saw many great pictures of historical events at the JSA. We walked back outside, in front of Freedom House (I think) and behind the buildings that straddle the MDL (Military Demarcation Line). There were plenty of ROK (Republic of Korea, South Korea, The Good Guys) around, from our BDU-wearing escort pair, to the Class A helmeted black belt formal guards.
ROK Guard
Strangely, I only saw one North Korean soldier, standing on the steps of Panmungak, their "impressive building".
Panmungak, North Korea
I know I was seen and videotaped by many North Korean cameras and guards.
I'll Be Watching You

We entered the central conference building, T-2, which had two ROK soldiers inside, one at the side of the border-straddling conference table,
Stradling the Border
and one at the back of the room, on the North Korean side.

Cmdr Dignan surprised me by walking into North Korea! He invited us to do the same. I was floored. I had no idea we'd get the chance to step over the MDL into North Korea. Needless to say, many photos were taken. We were very possibly the only Americans in North Korea for those few moments. How awesome is that!
TravelingRoths in North Korea

Me in the DMZ

After leaving T-2, we got onto the UNC bus, and drove to OP#5. They say you're surrounded by North Korea on three sides at that point,
Observation Post #5 (OP#5)

and we had great views of the MDL, the tallest flagpole in the world, topped by the North Korean flag, and the North Korean countryside.
Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea
It's easy to tell which mountains are North Korean and which are South Korean. North Korean mountains are barren. We could also see the site of the Axe Murder Incident of 1976,as well as Checkpoint #3 (the World's Lonliest Outpost).
World's Lonliest Outpost, and the Bridge of No Return

We got back in the bus and drove to the monument marking the former location of the poplar tree that was at the center of the Axe Murder Incident and Operation Paul Bunyon.
Axe Murder Incident Marker

From there we walked to CP#3 and the Bridge of No Return, led by our two ROK guards who stationed themselves on the bridge, facing North Korea, while we were out looking around.
Bridge of No Return
Guarding The Bridge of No Return
I'm sure the regular tour group who was behind us, and watching us from the previous checkpoint, was disappointed that that little excursion was not part of their tour.

From there wer went to the JSA gift shop where everything came together. They had all the stuff I'd considered in Insadong, plus more. I was able to knock out the bulk of my souvenir purchasing there. I got Z a Korean fan and a Korean fan magnet, a DMZ t-shirt for T, some cool little ceramic bottles for JR, who claims she doesn't like Korean pottery, and even got something for myself; a JSA hat.

We said thanks to LtCmdr Dignan and his Kiwi XO, and headed out, stopping a few miles down the road at a store that sells products made in the DMZ. I just bought some peach iced tea and a bottle of Porcari Sweat, as I hadn't been drinking nearly as much water on this trip as I should have been.

In about an hour (after getting some gasoline at $4/gal) we were back to the apartment building. We just took a quick minute inside to unload, and headed out to Yongsan Garrison, the military base where Adam works. We got checked-in onto the base, and walked to the Navy Club where we partook of the free happy hour grub, and had a few pictures of Oktoberfest beer while meeting a few of Adam's coworkers.

From there, Jason and I went back to the apartment, while Steve & Adam went out to enjoy some unmentionable late-night entertainment that I really wasn't interested in. I packed up everything but the clothes for the return home, and called it a night.

(For the Zooomr SmartSet of all my Korea photos, follow this link (pops) )
Thursday, October 11, 2007

Korea: Day Six: The Great Hike

Up around 7 - 7:30 (6:30 pm, Weds 10/10 at home). Had some fruit and yogurt for breakfast, followed by a grilled salami and cheese sandwich. That last part would be regrettable. We cleaned up the pan and headed out.

Once we got in the woods, we followed the signs that indicated "Mountain Climbing Trail" vs "Hiking Trail."
Which Way to Go?
This trail was strenuous from the very start, and probably not even 30 minutes in, I donated my breakfast to the mountain. I felt much better after that. The hike didn't get much easier. We eventually started hitting peaks, followed by shorter, less-strenuous ridges and climbs, (some with ropes attached to trees, to help out) to additional peaks. We eventually started seeing entrenchments along the ridgeline. Originally, we thought these were just Korean War remnants, but later found out that they were originally dug by the Chinese, but were currently still maintained and used for drills. There were other smaller, roundish ditches that we speculated may have been from mortar or artillery shells.

Figuring we'd hit the halfway spot on our map, and it being ~10:30, we thought we'd be finishing the hike back to the cabin in less time than it had taken to get that far.

(Phone call from Jennifer, about Mom)

It was definitely downhill from there, and at times so steep that the occasional slide happened. We went along for a while, and still didn't see anything familiar. It was probably at least 11:30 by now. We did see a highway, and the trail led out to that. We walked along the highway for probably close to two miles, before stopping at a gas station, and giving our taxi driver from the previous day a call.

The End of the Hike

About 15 minutes later, he picked us up and took us back to the cabins, probably at least a 20-25 minute drive, down one valley and back up into the neighboring valley. We were about 15 minutes late for checkout, so we hurriedly made sure that we had the cabin squared away while our cabbie waited. He took us back to the bus terminal, for about W70,000 total. Not a bad deal, really.

Got some bus tickets and some drinks for the 90 minute ride back to Seoul.

In the evening, Jason, Steve and I walked back up to the I-Park (Yongsan Station) mall for some souvenir hunting. The malls are noticeably different here in many ways. They're not freezing cold, there are at least twice as many sales associates than you'd find in an equivalently-sized American store. You'll also pay for your shopping bags.

I got a superhero action figure for T, and some nice oil pastel sticks for Z. Also picked up weird Asian snacks. Wasn't really satisfied with the stuff I've found yet. Wandered around restaurant row until we found something Steve could handle. Went to a Japanese place called Teriyaki. I had a bento box (sometimes referred to as a Japanese lunch box, which is nothing like an American lunch box.) It was excellent, a lot of different food, more than I could eat, and only W12,000.

We walked around the mall some more, with Jason failing in his attempt to get a Korean Starbucks mug for Christine.

Yongsan Station
Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Korea: Day Five: Journey to Chuncheon

Made our way (via the train) to a bus station in East Seoul, where we each bought a W7800 ticket on the express bus to Chuncheon, about __ miles northeast of Seoul. Milk Cider on the bus to Chuncheon
Made the trip out of the city in about 90 minutes, passing countryside for the first time.

From the bus station in Chuncheon we got a taxi to a place a few miles (W30,000) outside of town. It was a small "resort" up in the woods that had rental cabins with access to the extensive hiking trails in the area. Did I mention that hiking was a big deal in Korea? Adam had a Korean friend reserve the place for us, as evidently, that is something foreigners are unable to do.

For W40,000 we got a one-room cabin with a loft. We were issued one trash bag that we'd have to turn in with our trash when we left. The place had a table that sat about a foot off the floor, but was stowed beside the dorm fridge, which was unplugged (to save electricity, of course.) There was no other furniture, except the TV stand. We had a sink and pots and pans and plates/cups. the place was very nice and apparently pretty new. What about beds? No beds. Instead there were six semi-thick pads that you put on the floor to sleep on, and six thinner comforters, and six pillows. Since the cabin was heated by ondol, this arrangement was pretty comfortable.

We had brought some sausages and rolls with us, so we had that and some gatorade and beer for dinner. The others went outside to smoke cigars, while I ended up dozing off on the heated floor, watching TV. I think we probably turned in ~8:30 pm. It gets dark around 6 pm, so there wasn't much else to do. We did manage to get in a short hike before dinner.
Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Korea: Day 4: Insadong


Up fairly early once again. Adam had to go to work, so he trusted us enough to set us on Korea without causing an international incident. We took the train to Insadong, where we were yesterday. It's kind of an arts & crafts area, with a lot of traditional Korean stuff: pottery masks, inlaid pearl boxes, art, etc.

Up To No Good

If I Only Had a Heart


I found a lot of something to get Zoe (fans), not so much for Tristan, and nothing that really grabbed me for Jennifer. I did get a cool bookmark that we'll use as a Christmas tree ornament, and a bibimbap fridge magnet. We also found some gelato: green tea for me, peach for Steve, and mocha for Jason.

We walked out of the Insadong area so Steve could go to Burger King. Steve's Cheatin'
They did have some non-American menu items that looked good, like the Bulgogi Burger. I'm not sure if that would violate my No American Food policy or not, but I didn't eat there anyway.
Food spoils if you keep it for extended time.

We walked down past the electronics district, in a search for lunch for Jason and I. We found a huge indoor bazaar, called the _____ Market. (It was a lot like Zern's in Gilbertsville, PA for those familiar with "The Sale.") It started with cloth & fabrics,
Somewhere Over

then moved to fish and meats and decorative food baskets and fruits.
Today's Catch

Jason bought a dragonfruit; something he'd come to enjoy in Vietnam. We found the food vendor section. One booth after another, maybe 10 feet wide with seats or a bench and a tiny kitchen, and a tiny counter, mostly occupied with bowls of ingredients. We picked one and sat down. It seemed like each booth served about one dish. Our booth was bibimbap. We had our large, non-stone bowls of rice and veggies to which the vendor lady added things like nori, dried squid with sweet chilies, and tiny dried minnows.
Lunch Stackers

We also got a hot bowl with some kind of soup with roasted barley. It was a lot of food of pretty good quality (even though the cleanliness of the place was iffy). It was a whole W3000 each.

We walked around the market some more and took a lot of pictures. We totally missed the pig snout lunch vendors
Today's Lunch
as well as the ground mung bean pancakes with scallions (the samples of which were delicious.)

Outside the flea market was the electronics market. This was like something out of the movies. Tiny "streets" with vendor shops on both sides, some as small as a decent walk-in closet, selling everything electronic.
Electric Tree
We wandered through several alleyways, dodging the occasional merchandise-laden motorscooter.
Strange Things Carried on Motorcycles

We went back into the building proper and found a vendor selling Canon gear. I bought a lens hood for my 28-135mm lens for W19,000. I thought I had negotiated down to W15,000, but when I only got W1,000 change from the 20K I gave him, I guessed my negotiated price was lost in translation.

We took the train back to the apartment, planning to go out later to the only decent Italian restaurant in Seoul (allegedly). I think we all ended up inadvertently napping in front of the TV, so instead we ate-in. Adam made some pork that looked like bacon, but wasn't cured or salted, so it cooked up more like beef-looking (brownish) than bacon-looking (pink.) We had that with thick slices (Jason is not handy with a kitchen knife) of high-powered Korean garlic, bean paste, traditional kimchi, and lettuce & sesame leaf wraps. It's definitely a meal that would do well in the states, especially the cooking at your own table-style, which this was not.

(View my entire set of Korea trip photos here on Zooomr)
Sunday, October 07, 2007

Korea: Day Three: Temples and Palaces

Day three is only just beginning, but I shot a quick video to prove that I'm actually here. . . after some readers questioned my actual presence in Korea due to the fact that I'm not in any of my own pictures.

Here's the video, more pictures and words to be posted later.

Got kind of a late start, despite waking up at 7 am. Ate some normal breakfast at the apartment, chatted with the family (where it was still Sunday evening), and shot a short video with me in it to prove that I'm actually in Korea. That's it above.

Headed out to the subway, then to the Insadong station, just so that Steve, Jason, and I would know how to get there tomorrow when Adam's at work.

Outside, we met up with PAK SongMi (the writing convention in this blog is to put surnames in all capitals), a friend of Adam's who makes her living as a tour giuide for Japanese tourists. She was worried that her English wasn't good enough, but it was actually very respectable. Better than a lot of my physics TAs in college even.

We walked by Changdeokgung Palace, so we could see where it was, even though it was closed today. From there we walked down to Jongmyo Royal Ancestral Shrine, where tribute is paid to many dead kings, queens, and royal family members.
Jongmyo Ancestral Shrine

Walk the Spiritual Path

A Door Able

From there to the Wongaska Site, inside Tapgol Park. There was some pretty cool architecture.
Random Act of Art

A Korean War vet (from the South Korean Army) came up and started talking to us. That was interesting. We walked from there to the _____ Buddhist Temple, passing many interesting street vendors along the way.
Career Man
Do you want fries with that?

There were plenty of Buddhists, and monks about. The temple itself was very impressive,
Get to the Point

with several HUGE golden Buddhas.
One Big Buddha

Out of there and over to the Gyeonkbukgong Palace and the Korean Folk Art Center. Took a zillion pictures on the grounds (the palace)
Gyeongbokgung Palace
Japanese Tourists in Korea
Adam in the Mirror

and inside the museum (the folk art center).
Korean Pagoda
Kimchi, Plate 2
Sixtieth Birthday Celebration
Unintelligible Sign
National Folk Museum of Korea

After leaving there, it was time for a cab ride with Steve, SongMi and me in one cab, and Jason and Adam in another. We made the short (~ 5 minutes, <$3 trip to Lotte World, which is a huge name in retail all over the world (not including the US.) We went up to the sixth floor and to the PTC (Panmunjom Tourist Center), a travel office that handles tours to the JSA, inside the DMZ. We weren't going to arrange a tour, but rather to meet three of Adam's friends who work there: LEE SeungHee, JIN Hyekyung, and LEE DongHee (no relation). They were very amusing and entertaining. After they closed the office, we walked out into the Meyong-Dong area, which is just loaded with lights, people, narrow streets, shops, and restaurants. Lights of Myongdong

I nearly lost the others half a dozen times because I was taking so many photos. The place was just amazing. I could've easily shot a full card and run out my batteries. It was a far cry from Mebane, to say the least.

We went to a restaurant called _______ where we got a table for eight, with chairs, on the second floor. We started with some kimchi radish in cold broth, and quickly moved onto two huge servings of _________. It was chicken, noodles, and veggies, like potatoes, onions, carrots, and cucumber, in a dark broth. It was excellent, and a wee bit spicy, of course. A side of cabbage kimchi accompanied, naturally. I twas loud, fun, and very filling. We learned some Korean traditions, like how to fill someone else's beer glass (you never fill your own), which varies depending on which participant is older or younger. Another great Korean meal. Are you seeing a pattern here?

We headed back to the street, took a bunch of pictures, in which I purposefully made the peace sign, Tourists and Locals (though not in this picture) as people in Asia nearly always do for some reason, and said our goodbyes to walk to the train and back to the apartment. Spent a few minutes enjoying the view from Adam's window, and called it a night.

The day wasn't a "death march" by any stretch, and with the terrific weather, food, and company, I could handle many more days like this in Korea.

(View my entire set of Korea trip photos here on Zooomr)

Korea: Day Two: Seoul Tower

Slept 'til amost 10 am! I feel acclimatized at the moment. Caught up on e-mail, and had some coffee and fruit. I think we're hiking to the Seoul Tower today, and who knows what else. A good day for photography.

15:41 Walked up to Seoul Tower. Maybe "walk" isn't the right word. we found a trail that looked promising, but it dead-ended not too far up. A kindly older Korean gentleman asked where we wanted to go, and we told him the tower, and he said "Follow me, I'm going there too." We set off on a very rustic trail with a "No Trail" sign at the front of it. It was a pretty strenuous hike, made worse by the fact that blatantly older people were kicking our asses up the hill. It's fairly warm here too. The hike was worth it, though. The tower area was really cool.
N Seoul Tower
N Seoul Tower Tickets

There were some women drummers performing,
Korean Drummers
Drummer Chicks and Lanterns

and tons of people and picnickers, and very few white devils like us.
American Pigs

Got a few excellent shots, I think.
View of the Alter
New York, 11,061.86 km
And She Danced

Went to the top of the tower for W7000. Almost got lunch up there, but for W36,000, it didn't seem worth it. We walked down the hill, passing many women of an age in The States where they'd probably take a power chair just to get to the dairy section in the supermarket. . . walking up the hill. The Koreans are very serious about their hiking.

We ate at some little restaurant on a side street. I had bibimbap, which is almost the korean national dish.
DolSoet Bibimbap
It's a mixture of a bunch of stuff and rice in a hot stone bowl. The entrees came with about eight side dishes.
Korean Side Dishes

It was another excellent meal, and cost about W5000 ($5.43) each. Bailing from the tower-top restaurant was totally the right idea.

We rode the subway back (W1000) to the station that exits right outside Adam's apartment. There's a 7-11 in the same building, so Adam bought some food and an umbrella, for it looks like it may rain.

It had stopped raining by the time we went outside. We walked up to the big train station that is also a big shopping center.
Youngsan Station Mall

We visited one of my favorite places in any country: the supermarket! This one was impressive and crowded, especially for 8 pm on a Sunday. Adam bought some groceries while Jason, Steve, and I tried to stay out of the way. Almost nothing had English labels, so if you didn't immediately recognize an item, you were probably out of luck. The prices seemed comprable to The States. I didn't take pictures in there, since I have no idea what the rules are about that, though in the states, supermarkets are often no-photo zones, for whatever reason. I'd definitely like to go back .

We walked home, with me stopping with me stopping a lot to take pictures.
A Few Seconds on Seoul Street
I use my 50mm f/1.8 lens for all the night stuff as I need the extra speed. I can use my mid-sized gorilla pod with that lens, but the bigger lens is too heavy. I think I'll add the SLR Zoom Gorillapod to my Amazon wishlist.

Adam made some fried pot stickers and chicken for dinner. Even the prepared food here is good. Had a shot of soju, the national firewater. It's really not bad. Uploaded some shots to Zooomr (marked as Friends and Family only, so if you want to see my unprocessed, un-geotagged shots, let me know and I'll add you as a friend or family) hung out, and watched strange Korean/Japanese TV.

Not sure what the plan is tomorrow. Jason said something about a "death march", but he overstates. It's 1:00 am, time to find out how jetlagged I am.

(View my entire set of Korea trip photos here on Zooomr)
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